FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, October 21, 2005

Could Machines Compete with People for Food Supply?

At first blush, biofuels made from vegetable oils seem like the ideal renewable, eco-friendly solution to the world's energy needs. But an unintended consequence of using these oils for fuel could be food shortages and higher food prices. Already in Europe, rapeseed oil that's used to create diesel fuel is in short supply, and prices have soared since September.

The supply squeeze will affect foods that use rapeseed oil, such as margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressings and some chocolates. Although food industry representatives in the EU are urging fuel producers to switch to non-edible vegetable oils (or perhaps recycling discarded cooking oil, as has been done experimentally), soy and palm oil supplies could be similarly impacted by biofuel use. Some food manufacturers are switching to sunflower oil, while greater use of corn oil could benefit farmers in the US.

Although high crop yields will help keep vegetable oil supplies and prices in check for the near term, a future blight, natural catastrophe or a poor crop could harm both the supplies of fuel as well as certain foods. Such potential problems need to be addressed as biofuels gain acceptance in other parts of the world.

UPDATE: For more information on biofuels, please read the extremely informative comments to this post by "Joe-in-Texas".

Source: Reuters (via Planet Ark)